Conversations with strangers on the internet tend to be superficial, judgmental and short. But make an effort, and it can be an opportunity to have in-depth discussions with people you’d never normally meet. Anna Tang reports.
THE NIGHT BEFORE writing this, I was “strolling” around the online Q&A site Quora and encountered a man twice my age (I’m a teenager). He had shaved off his hair but sported an impressive, flourishing mane of a beard.
Initial judgement: He’s probably a creep.
Despite that, I talked to him. From the way he held himself and his polished British accent, I thought he must be an Oxford University professor. Then he told me he was a drug dealer. Eww! Despite that, I still continued to talk to him.
I didn’t really register his odd physical appearance until at least fifteen minutes into my conversation with him about our common interest: classical music.
Strange, right? The thought that somebody who looked so unconventional, held such absurd beliefs (“It’s okay to introduce yourself as a drug dealer”) would be so interested in something so… classic, so wholesome, even.
And of all classical pieces, he enjoyed Mozart’s K330 Sonata, for goodness sake: an innocent, happy piano piece. I told him to listen to Beethoven’s Pathetique or Appassionata, as they would suit him better: much more dark and dramatic.
His eyes were a little crazy. When I mentioned that to him, he told me that his eyes only ever looked normal when he was high. I told him to go smoke something. I can still see his eyes now in my mind when I shut my own.
I also remember uneasiness filling my stomach at the memory of him calling himself a – what was it again? Oh right, a polymath.
At first I speculated that it had something to do with psychopath. But then a quick Google search told me it was a person with wide knowledge or learning. It seemed to me that he held himself in pretty high regard. Annoyed, I jokingly called him a narcissist.
This led to an existential crisis. Not his, but mine. He said: “That’s what all ordinary people call smart people: narcissists. How would the smartest person on Earth know that he’s smart?”
I replied: “Because other people would rank him as the smartest person on Earth.”
He said: “But mundane people wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend his vast amount of knowledge, so how could they know he was the smartest person on Earth?”
I couldn’t think of a good answer. I ventured another answer: “He can enter competitions and win them.”
But would such a person enter contests? “What value do competitions hold, if he is pitting himself against those inferior to him?” he asked.
LOOKS OR PERSONALITY?
People’s looks and personalities are two different things – but sometimes they match, sometimes not. At one point, I told him that I had been talking to a boy prior to him, and he had a decent physical appearance but the most boring personality ever. He admitted that it was how he viewed me: a rather basic personality with a pretty face (he actually somehow compared me to a flower but my short term memory fails me as to which one). And yet he decided to talk to me because I seemed “nice and friendly”.
He said that if I didn’t find him cute enough to talk to, should he have put mascara on? I told him that he should try the challenge that most girls face every morning: to put on perfect eyeliner in five minutes.
At one point, he mentioned that the more outlandish and out of place a person seems to him, the more attracted he is to them. After hearing that, I was quite grateful for my ordinary looks and personality.
FRIENDS FOR A WHILE
But we did become friends of a sort, for a while, at least. He went on to say that was a wizard. I said I could picture him as a sorcerer, with decapitated heads in his room which he would use to brew magical potions. He was not offended, but said he was rather impressed by my imagination.
I set aside my judgment about him, based on his looks and self-declared occupations, in favour of the pleasure of having got to know an interesting character. But when I shared my hopes for my own future, to get a law degree from a highly ranked university, he put down his judgment of me as a person who has extremely “basic” aspirations.
We were clearly very different. Still, regardless of that, we talked for about four hours. We’ll probably never cross paths again.
And I still don’t know his name.
Image at the top from Shoeib Abolhassani/ Unsplash